Gaming industry draws foreign talent to Helsinki region

Turning to the electronic gaming industry, more and more foreign companies are interested in setting up branch offices in Helsinki. Finnish firms also employ many foreigners, with about one-third of workers at major gaming companies from abroad.

Helsinkiläinen Supercell työllistää 35 ulkomaista työntekijää. Image: Yle

Staff at the Finnish mobile games company Supercell are fine-tuning graphics for one of the hitmaking firm's newest games. Top-secret preparations for the so-far-unnamed game are being carried out by one of Supercell's international teams. It’s led by a Brazilian, Drussila Hollanda.

“I think that when you work with games, your main motivation is to make the best games. So it's natural for you to look where people are doing the best work and if Finland is the place now where people are generating the best work, then you want to see what's going on in Finland,” says Hollanda, whose title is Product Lead.

Hollanda is one of about 35 foreign employees at Supercell, which is Finland's biggest games firm after Rovio. She says that non-Finns are drawn to the country's games industry because of the companies and working culture here, as well as the general quality of life and services available. She moved here about a year ago from Berlin.

“I think the life here is quite easy, it's very stress free. So in terms of infrastructure of the city with the transportation or the services, healthcare and all of that stuff, the whole package is really good,” says Hollanda.

When asked about the pros and cons of living in Finland, Hollanda can only think of one downside.

“I think the most obvious con is the winter,” she says. “The worst thing about it isn’t the cold, it’s the darkness. And even though I suffer from the winter, the positive sides of Finland make it all worth it.”

Helsinki hotbed

Thanks to hit games such as Rovio's Angry Birds and Supercell's Clash of Clans, the Finnish capital region is now one of the gaming world's hotspots.

Screengrab from a Supercell game. Image: Yle / Antti Kettumäki

KooPee Hiltunen, director of Neogames, the Finnish National Centre of Game Business Research and Education, says that negotiations are underway with a number of major international gaming companies about setting up branch offices in Helsinki.

Total employment in the Finnish gaming business is so far modest, with some 1800 workers in all. Neogames estimates that one fifth of them have moved to Finland for work, while big companies have one-third foreign staff. This means that this fledgling industry hires proportionally more immigrants than, say, the cleaning business.

And the field is growing fast, with total turnover doubling within the past year.

Heini Vesander, PR Lead at Supercell, says that recruitment has become a bottleneck, with the company struggling to find the right know-how in Finland or abroad.

Supercell, known for hits such as Clash of Clans and Hay Day, has 101 employees, with about 35 of them foreigners. The third-largest firm, Remedy has similar figures. Meanwhile the Espoo-based Rovio has a staff of about 600, with one quarter from overseas.

Neogames has forecast that by 2020 Finland’s core gaming industry will have an annual turnover of 1.5 billion euros. Hiltunen says that figure already looks too low.